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Flavour Your Life Event - Blending Olive Oil and Beyond

Earlier this month I was invited to the Toronto Flavour Your Live Blending Event hosted by Aria Restaurant, here in Toronto.  I LOVE extra virgin olive oil and was intrigued by the whole blending thing, I made my way down to the venue to check it out because I am not missing out on a chance to have some science fun.

Taking home my personal blend

The owner and blend master himself, Giovanni Zucchi, led us through a tasting, showing us the proper tasting technique (very similar to wine tasting where you take a sip, coat your mouth with the oil then noisily suck air in through pursed lips and then spit it out) and helped us to identify different flavours and how they reacted on the palate. If you think all olive oil is essentially the same, think again. Some show clear notes of pepper, some are kind of sweet, some are more acidic and others are fruity.

Professional olive oil tasters sip from blue glasses so that they can focus on the taste and the texture and not get hung up on the colour, something that a novice like me might do. First you cup the glass to warm the oil up and hold the other over the top to trap the aroma. You then stick your nose in, again like wine tasting, and take a deep smell. Some oils smelled a bit grassy, others smelled like ripe fruit. Then you taste and now you are looking for things like bitterness, pungency, is it buttery?

my own personal blend
We learned a bit about the history of his family business (dating back to 1810, hence the name of the oils Zucchi 1810)  and that led to our final assignment - to make our own, unique blend of olive oil, using the oils we had just tasted and rated, using a glass test tube - it was all very scientific and I kind of wished that I had worn a white lab coat and a hair net for the occasion. We had to take into account not only the taste but the fragrance of these oils hailing from different regions and countries so there was no sleeping on the job.

I was not surprised that the oils that appealed to me the most were two Spanish and one Greek oil as those are the olive oils that I naturally gravitate towards and that dominate my own collection at home.

After the work was done we tasted some apps prepared by the restaurant that highlighted the flavours of Zucchio olive oil and had a glass or three of prosecco.

These types of events are only possible because of the Flavour Your Life Campaign, working to educate us North Americans on the benefits of European extra virgin olive oil. With funding from the European Union as well as the Italian government, this campaign represents a large group of European producers so that they can help us buy smarter and recognize superior brands of extra virgin olive oil.

Sadly, Zucchi oil is not yet available in Canada but it is widely available in the States.

To find an upcoming blending experience near you, click here to check the calendar

What is extra virgin olive oil, anyway?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Europe is delicious and healthy and it has to meet certain standards to earn the label of Extra Virgin.

The olives — called “drupes” — may be harvested at any time in their ripening process, and there are flavourful reasons for harvesting at certain times, but to be Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the extraction must take place without heat or chemicals, guaranteeing freshness and purity.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil must be low in acid — below 0.8%. Over-processing and careless handling (especially exposure to heat and light) can result in higher acid and lackluster, boring flavour. Olive oil should taste like olives.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil must also have a low peroxide content, which assures minimal exposure to oxygen.  

Most importantly, Extra Virgin Olive Oil has to taste good which is why every batch is carefully considered by a panel of expert tasters. At the end of the day, they only apply the official Extra Virgin designation to oils that meet the strict  standards set forth by law and by tradition over many centuries. 

How can I use extra virgin olive oil?

Don't just save your Extra Virgin Olive Oil for special occasions - I use it every day

lots of extra virgin olive oil elevates this smokey eggplant dip

Drizzle on food —  It's great on a salad but it's also fabulous drizzled over some grilled or roasted vegetables to add some richness.

Drizzle onto hot foods to release an oil’s aromatic qualities - try it on some oven roasted salmon in place of a heavy sauce and see what I mean.

Think outside of the box with the Tomato Olive Oil Vinaigrette

Make a dressing for salads or other dishes. Olive oil accentuates the aromas and flavours of fresh herbs and ground spices.

Preserve roasted and grilled vegetables and even cheese for days by submerging in olive oil and storing in a cool place; they’ll last even longer if frozen. 

learn how to preserve herbs in olive oil

I freeze all of my extra basil in olive oil ice cube trays and pop them out as I need them for sauteeing and throwing into sauces or soups.

Don't listen to the nay sayers and use it for frying; olive oil has a high smoke point, and can even handle deep frying. They use it for high heat cooking in Italy, Spain and Greece every day.

Use it instead of butter, and not just on bread. Try it IN bread, and cakes, and muffins, and even oatmeal.

Pair oils just as you would wine, adding robust oils to complement hearty or spicy dishes, and lighter oils for milder preparations.

Olive Oil is wonderful in this spicy asian dish

Think outside of the Mediterranean. Olive oil can liven up a ceviche, handle an Asian stir fry, and add a hit of richness to the simplest soup.

Last but not least, Olive oil makes a great moisturizer for dry skin, as well - Just ask Sophia Loren what her secret is.

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